By Abbey Walusimbi, California, USA
AS the year 2016 comes to an end, three issues ring out that have had real effect on our country. The re-election of President Yoweri Museveni ensured that the country continues on an uninterrupted journey into a middle income country; the Kasese riots in April and then again this month have adversely affected tourism; and the money squeeze which in part has been caused by hunger in many parts of the country all allow us to reflect.
The last two months of the year have seen an influx of Ugandans from the diaspora into the country, many who have not been following these events have found a rather tasty environment, rife with hunger, insecurity ( on the part of Kasese) and subdued hope for a few optimists.
My take is that Ugandans in the diaspora now have a real chance of leading the campaign on the economic development of the country. The key for the development between now and the year 2021 is engagement into the politics of development other than discrimination.
To be part of the solution for all these problems, we should seize the opportunity by investing in the country especially in value-addition ventures.
The World Bank estimates that Uganda received $1.049bn in diaspora remittances in 2015 - around 4% of GDP. This year, the actual total is likely to be significantly higher than that. Millions of Ugandans rely on money sent by family and friends living abroad, it's an incredibly important lifeline.
The population of Ugandans living and working in North America alone, is estimated to be more than 200,000; in the Nordic countries a further 10,000. Because money problems are everywhere, if these Ugandans in the diaspora form associations, raise enough money for investment at home, our country would develop at a tremendous pace.
To invest in Uganda one may need a minimum of one million dollars ($1,000,000). In North America, if each Ugandan raised say $200, that would be a cool $40,000,000; or if the 10,000 Ugandans in the Nordics raised each $200, this would be a further $2,000,000.
Imagine how many ordinary ventures of value addition or Agro processing industries like fruit processing, coffee processing, cottage industries and others can be set up and how much boost it would provide to the economy.
Ugandans in the diaspora have the capacity to invest in Uganda and Government has fertilized the environment to allow this to happen. It has set up incentives and programs and relevant offices have been equipped to favorably handle these unconditional investors. Regardless of political affiliation, Government now encourages Ugandan investors in agriculture, animal husbandry through its program of Wealth Creation.
Through UCDA seed suppliers, coffee seedlings are given free of charge who investors in the coffee industry, free seedlings are given out for mango, tea, simsim, cocoa, orange and pineapple growers and now calves, piglets and one day chicks are supplied for those who want to invest in animal husbandry and poultry.
We are now in discussions with HE the President to set up a diaspora village where businesses can be set up and run in a single location with Government help. For instance, the AGOA arrangement has not benefitted Uganda in the same way it has benefitted other countries, and yet if Ugandans in the diaspora can help develop the tailoring industry, it can offer a huge boost in terms of remittances and jobs to our people.
The starting point however should be for all Ugandans in the diaspora to promote Ugandan tourism. The Kasese debacle has hurt tourism, in only three weeks this month; some tour companies have reported losses upwards of $300,000 because of cancelled visits!
With a fragile economy, a hungry people and a ‘laissez faire' attitude to development, Uganda in 2017 is set for harder times unless everyone in the diaspora promotes tourism. Help spread the word about Uganda so that our hotels can get business; build one if you have the money; promote peace so that tourists can feel safe and above all understand that Government is willing and ready to help everyone regardless of their political affiliation.
As Ugandans in the diaspora meet the Kabaka of Buganda on December 28, it's my humble prayer that among issues to be discussed should be an investment plan that allows our involvement in the development of the kingdom, which will have a multiplier effect on the entire economy.
I wish you a productive New Year 2017.
Abbey Kigozi Walusimbi is the Chairman NRM Diaspora League